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Monday, June 21, 2010

English to Engineer Your Career

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Prof. E. Suresh Kumar, Director, Centre for English Language Training, University College of Engineering, Osmania University, Hyderabad
Why Good Communication Skills?

Within a few months after Vijay passed his B.Tech with a distinction, his ordeals began. He knows all his subjects thoroughly well, but unfortunately his English is not good. All his attempts to get a good job have been going in vain and he now has several sleepless nights. He regrets his negligence while at the university towards improving his communicative abilities and has now realized that unless he improves his English, he has no chance of getting a job in a good company. 

This is the story of not Vijay alone, but thousands of engineering graduates. While on campus, they did not recognize and appreciate the need for improving their proficiency in English language and their communicative abilities. They did not improve their English language skills, soft skills and interview techniques.

The need for good communication skills, a good command over English language and proficiency with soft skills cannot be ignored. Today, the ever expanding industry is craving for youth with vibrant personality and first-rate communication skills. Often we hear in the recruitment corridors, particularly in the multinational companies, that innumerable jobs remain vacant for want of suitable candidates equipped with good communication skills. Effective communicative abilities not only decide whether one gets a job or not; but when one does get a job, they decide what kind of responsibilities one can be assigned and how attractive the pay packet is. So, possessing effective communication skills is not only the golden key to getting a good job, but also the fabulous route to go up the ladder in any organization. 

Syllabus and Strategy in Engineering English

Keeping the need for well groomed engineering graduates in mind and in view of the increasing demand for English as a tool for global communication, universities such as Osmania University, Hyderabad and J.N.T. University, Hyderabad and Anantapur have redesigned their English curricula recently. These universities and several such others have been continuously revising their English syllabus with the objective of developing the communicative competence of students and also to cater to the needs of the industry. 

Osmania University offers a course in Engineering English with components in interpersonal communication; listening and speaking skills; writing paragraphs, reports, resumes and letters; vocabulary enrichment techniques; remedial language with special emphasis on common errors and reading strategies and techniques in the first semester. In the second semester, the syllabus includes soft skills such as presentation skills, Powerpoint presentations, role plays, group discussions, interview skills and public speaking skills. The entire course is taught in a student centred method with lots of opportunity for activity and interaction, using pair work, group work and language games. In both the semesters, students get ample opportunity to use the English Language Laboratory for practising English sounds and speech and to improve their listening and speaking skills. The two prescribed textbooks ‘Communicative English’ and ‘A Handbook for English Language Laboratories’ help the students achieve the objective of improving their English proficiency and communicative competence.

The JNTU also has similar components in its English syllabus with stress on skills development and practice of language skills. The course includes listening & speaking skills, reading & writing skills, remedial grammar, vocabulary building with plentiful opportunity for classroom discussion and interaction. The two prescribed textbooks ‘Enjoying Everyday English’ and ‘Inspiring Speeches and Lives’ serve as tools to achieve the objective of improving the English proficiency of the students. The syllabus also includes the English Language Lab with focus on production and practice of English sounds with emphasis on use of English in everyday situations and contexts.

Be a Better Communicator

With the syllabus now designed to serve as a most useful launch pad for equipping oneself with the required communication skills, students of engineering in these and other universities should take advantage of and capitalize on the opportunity. They should realize that being a better communicator paves them the way to rewarding careers in the existing and emerging industry. There need not be any more Vijays losing exciting job opportunities because of poor communication skills.

CALL is calling you

Computers have revolutionized the way language is learnt today and the one most unfailing tool that helps students equip themselves with listening and speaking skills is the Computer Assisted Language Laboratory (CALL), a student centred language learning equipment. With emphasis on personalised and individualised learning process, CALL materials create real-life like situations in the laboratory and facilitate the language learning process. With built-in structured and interactive lessons, CALL promotes the language learning process, besides serving as a tool to help learners with limited language proficiency. 

The most interesting and useful feature of CALL is its adaptability to suit individual needs with provision for a student to go at his or her pace. Further, CALL makes language learning interesting and enjoyable. It is a boon to engineering students in that it offers them a reliable and dependable learning tool, literally, at the click of a mouse. More than being a mere tool for language learning, CALL products also serve as ready-in-attendance teacher specialists ever willing to offer more freedom to the student to experiment with language and more opportunity for self dependence. 

Make the most of it

Thus CALL Lab or Language Lab as it is commonly referred to offers a new dimension to language learning experience and every student should exploit it and benefit from it to polish and perfect his communication skills. Students should realize that technology has become a powerful and useful tool for those who wish to hone their communicative competence in the Language Laboratories of their colleges. 

Take-it-easy-attitude towards English is often seen among the students of engineering. They somehow get to feel that they do not have to concentrate on English language since they can pass the subject without much difficulty. Unfortunately, they fail to realize that passing the subject itself is not enough. What is learnt through that subject is more important. In some universities language lab sessions are conducted for the benefit of students, so as to give them exposure to the practicalities of the English language. Since all of this is there only in the first year of the engineering course, by the time the students reach their final year, they forget what they had learnt during their English classes. After the first year, students concentrate on their core subjects and ignore English. Many students also keep a deaf year to the suggestions offered by the teacher in their English classes in the first year and only realise its importance during placements when they face the interviewers in their 3rd year or final year. By the time they realise the importance and usefulness of communication skills in English, it is too late to make amends. Hence, all the students who joined engineering courses are advised to concentrate from day one of their joining college on how to improve their communication skills in English while striving to gain a command over their own branch of engineering. Communication skills alone are not sufficient for getting a job therefore command over their own branch of engineering is also equally important.

Interestingly, most of the English teachers use English text as a pretext to improve the communicative competence of their students. So, the students should not miss this opportunity of updating their language skills. The first year engineering is the final year of English subject. Hence, students should take this as a one time opportunity and gear themselves up right away for taking interviews in their future, that is, 3rd year and final year of engineering. The inputs they receive from their English teacher in the first year should be honed further in their 2nd, 3rd and final years with the help of their seniors and the faculty. 

Students are advised to follow the suggestions offered throughout their course. It must be remembered that without practice nothing can be achieved. Some of them are good at speaking while others are good at writing. Integration of all the four language skills viz. listening, speaking, reading, and writing (LSRW) - is a must. 

Some Useful Tips 

Some tips are presented below for improving English language skills. Try to follow them. They can be practised inside and/or outside the classroom. 
  • Practise summarising or elaborating on your thoughts in a place where you feel comfortable. For example, you can tell your parents or your close friends about a TV programme or a movie you have just watched.
  • Try to read aloud any English text in the presence of a group of people. This helps you shed all your inhibitions on using English language.
  • Try to run a ‘mental movie’ of what you are reading by framing pictures in your mind, especially when you are reading stories.
  • When reading, underline all the important and difficult words and phrases you come across, learn their meanings and then write a meaningful paragraph, story or conversation by using all the new words you have just learnt.
  • Listen to as many English programmes (on T.V or Radio) as possible and try to repeat the dialogues of the character by imitating them. Listening has direct impact on speaking. This improves your pronunciation and conversational skills, too.
  • Do not hesitate to speak to your friends or classmates in English. Do not ever worry that you may speak wrong or broken English. It is always better to loose your image before your friends than before the interviewer. It is easy to achieve success after making some errors. Hence, go ahead and speak in English whenever and wherever possible with confidence.
  • Listen to music in English and repeat lyrics later even though you do not understand what is being said. This greatly improves your ability to listen to and to speak the language. If you can manage to get the lyrics and try to sing along, it will work wonders for you.
  • Play as many grammar games / language games as possible. This helps you make your grammatical structures perfect and expressions effective and interesting. This can be done once you have crossed the basic level of English language.
  • Use CDs with listening activities and practise listening exercises using headphones.
  • Participate in co-curricular activities of your college. Write articles or book reviews for your college magazine. This can boost your confidence.
  • Try to speak on telephone enquiring about a product / service.
  • If you have friends or relatives abroad, try to speak to them in English continuously enquiring about their culture, habits, life style etc,
  • Maintain vocabulary notes. New vocabulary can be learnt from newspapers, books, dictionaries, thesaurus etc. Try to learn at least twenty words each day. Use all the new words you have learnt in real life situations. 
  • At a later stage, you may read the editorial of an English newspaper and paraphrase it in your own words.
  • You can use newspapers in the classroom for improving your English
  • Match stories and summaries: Each student can choose a story in newspaper and write a three-sentence summary. Students cut their stories from the paper and place them around the room. Redistribute the summaries; so that each student has someone else’s summary. Students must try to match the summary to the story.
  • Practise story chains: Groups can find some stories interesting for them and cut them out. Then they can arrange them in a chain so that the stories are somehow connected. They can explain the connections to other groups. Alternately, other groups can try to guess the connections.
  • Play hide and seek: Groups can find a story, and then write one line about where to find it and a fact from the story. e. g. it’s in the sports section. 
  • Participate in story guessing: Students can find a very short story. In groups of four to five, they can guess each other’s stories in turn by asking ‘yes/no’ questions.

    E.g. Is it a sports story? Is it a crime story?
Work with advertisements: Students can choose classified ads, call their partners to find out more information. Students can read a display and then work with a partner and think of good reasons to own the product. They can also try to convince others in their groups to buy it.

Try to follow the above mentioned tips and practise the exercises diligently so that you can become proficient in English. Try to read the books recommended below and also make an attempt to browse the websites mentioned below. They will remain as a constant resource for updating your communication skills in English.

Some Very Useful Books:
  1. A Handbook for English Language Laboratories. E Suresh Kumar and P Sreehari, Cambridge University Press India Pvt Ltd.
  2. Communicative English. E. Suresh Kumar and P Sreehari, Orient Blackswan. 
  3. Effective English. E. Suresh Kumar, P. Sreehari, and J. Savithri, Pearson Education.
  4. English for Employment. E. Suresh Kumar, P. Sreehari, and J. Savithri, Cambridge University Press India Pvt Ltd.
  5. Communication Skills and Soft Skills. E. Suresh Kumar, P. Sreehari, and 
    J. Savithri, Pearson Education.,
  6. Murphy’s English Grammar. Raymond Murphy,Cambridge University Press.
  7. English Pronunciation in Use. Mark Hancock, Cambridge University Press.
  8. Spoken English. V Sasikumar and P V Dhamija, Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. Ltd.
  9. Spoken English for You. G. Radhakrishna Pillai and K. Rajeevan, Emerald Publishers.
  10. The Oxford Guide to Writing and Speaking. John Seely, Oxford University Press.

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